A cocktail doesn't have to involve a dozen ingredients and cost a fortune. Some of the classics require only a base alcohol, a dash of fruit juice and some ice. Don't be afraid to substitute and modify drink recipes to fit whatever you have on hand.
Start With Your Favorite Spirit
Cocktails are built around a base spirit. It is usually the most expensive component of the drink, so start with what you already have on hand, if possible. If you're planning a party, stick to one base spirit. You can make a wide variety of cocktails from any of them, and it gives gatherings a sense of coherency (and saves you some cash).
Add a Complementary Flavor
Flavorings shouldn't overpower or mask the flavor of the spirits. Instead, look for flavors that highlight or complement the characteristics of your favorite alcohol.
- Fruit juices work well with spirits like tequila, vodka and white rum. Citrus pairs well with spiced rum.
- Muddled herbs, such as sage and anise, highlight the flavor notes in gin or absinthe.
- A dash of bitters adds a subtle flavor boost to most drinks. Keep a bottle of Angostura or Peychaud's bitters on hand to spice up your cocktails.
Sweeten -- But Not Too Much
One-half to 1 part of sweetener to 1 part spirits smooths out the drink. If you add fruit juice as a flavoring, the sweet component is already present so there's no need to add extra sugar. Use these common cocktail sweeteners:
- Simple syrup -- a 1:1 ratio of sugar dissolved in water
- Agave syrup
Mixed Drink Recipes
Want a cocktail without the experimentation? Opt for these time-tested classics:
Add 1 ounce of orange juice to a champagne flute. Top with sparkling wine and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters.
Fill a glass with ice. Juice half a lime, or measure 1 tablespoon of lime juice into the glass. Add 2 ounces of vodka and 4 to 6 ounces of ginger beer.
Pour your favorite cola over ice. Stir in 2 ounces of spiced rum and a squeeze of lime juice.
Fill a short tumbler with ice. Add 2 parts vodka, 1 part coffee liqueur and 1 part cream. Stir well.
Fill a shaker with ice. Add 1 1/2 ounces of white rum, 1/2 ounce of simple syrup and 1 ounce of lime juice. Shake, then strain into a cocktail glass filled with ice.